Calcutta HC eases foreign passport rule for Indian citizenship – Times of India

Kolkata News

KOLKATA: The Calcutta high court has said production of original foreign passport is not mandatory for applying for Indian citizenship if the applicant has stayed in India for seven years and is married to an Indian citizen and has evidence of both. The order followed a plea by Bismilla Khan, a Pakhtoon, who claimed to have migrated to India in 1973 as a nine-year-old refugee with his father. Khan now stays in Jadavpur, is married to an Indian and has several documents, like Aadhaar and PAN cards, driving licence and electricity bills, to prove he has been in India for nearly half-a-century. “It cannot be held that under such circumstances… (that) producing a passport and its particulars is mandatory,” Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya said in his order, adding: “There has to be a relaxation… in case the petitioner is able to satisfy the authorities the reasons for non-availability of (the original) passport.” Khan told the court he was a “refugee in distress” when he came to India; part of the place where he stayed (Wanna village in tribal Waziristan) merged “partially with Afghanistan and partially with Pakistan”. Khan also provided a “National Identity Card” issued in 1989 by the All-India Pakhtoon Jigra-E-Hind, an organisation working for Pakhtoons in India. Khan was permitted to stay in India on a “long-term basis” in 2002 and then married Hyderabad-based Indian citizen Gulnar Khanam. They now have a daughter, who studies in a reputable Kolkata school. Persons with all other documents, indicating they had been living in India for a long time, and who were married to Indians would not be able to apply for citizenship “despite having lived their entire lives and contributing to the economy and diverse culture of this country”, Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya said. This, he added, would be contradictory to the spirit of the Indian Constitution. “His plea for Indian citizenship is under Section 5(1)(c) of the Citizenship Act (1955), which stipulates a person should be married to an Indian citizen and should have stayed in India for seven years before s/he can apply for Indian citizenship,” Khan’s advocate, Sharmistha Podder, said. “The state’s role ends with scrutiny of the application and forwarding it to the Centre. It was difficult to ascertain whether he was a foreign national because of the absence of the passport. This ambiguity, however, has ended with the order,” state counsel Srijib Chakraborty said. The HC in July 2018 allowed Khan to file his application afresh and asked the government to decide on his plea in three months. But Khan said the original passport was a mandatory requirement for the online application (Form III); so he could not even file a fresh application. He then moved Calcutta HC a second time. Justice Bhattacharya said “the requirement of having a passport has to be read as optional” in online applications and, till necessary changes were done in the software, people should be allowed to submit applications manually. But the application, the order said, would have to detail the reasons for non-availability of passport.